Note: This is Part 1 of a two part blog series. Check back soon for Part 2, Your Step by Step Guide to Writing An Amazing Romance Novel Book Review
LANA HAS BEEN READING EROTIC ROMANCE since before Fifty Shades of Grey exploded the genre. A wife, mother and full-time business owner, she discovered Goodreads and began posting reviews of all the fabulous and steamy contemporary and paranormal romance novels she was reading.
A year later, she launched Dirty Girl Romance, and a book blogging phenomenon was born.
“Starting a blog was a natural transition,” Lana tells me. “It’s a hobby I do for fun because I enjoy connecting with other romance lovers.”
I’M GIRL CRUSHING
With nearly 8,000 followers on Facebook and another 5,000 on Goodreads, other romance readers are clearly returning the love. Lana’s romance novel book reviews and those of her co-blogger Jennifer are known for being dirty, honest, funny and real, with slick graphics of sexy Heroes and sassy heroines that get readers one-clicking to buy.
Being a huge fan of the blog myself (I often peek at it before making a book purchase) I can’t resist asking Lana for her secrets to writing an amazing book review. What, I ask, is the most important part of reviewing for sites like Amazon, iBooks and Goodreads, or for one’s own WordPress or Blogspot blog?
“I like my reviews to be informative without being spoilery,” she says. “Readers who follow me know my tastes, and they’ll either agree or disagree with them. So they know when I dislike something, it may be that it wasn’t my taste rather than anything wrong with the book itself.”
WHY I’VE GOT BOOK REVIEWS ON THE BRAIN
It’s no secret among my bookish friends that I’m not the best at writing reviews, lol! I’ve long said that writing a 400 word review requires a different skill set than a 400 page novel. In fact, when I really like a story I get completely sucked in and can’t coherently describe the experience after the fact.
Yet, as an indie published author, I have a deep appreciation for the lasting impact reviews have on authors’ careers. Reviews live forever online, and can make or break a new book’s prospects.
That’s why I’ve set a personal goal of tripling my book review writing in 2017, covering new books as well as my backlog of hundreds of favorites.
But I want to be methodical about it. I want to gain a few skills before I get started. Fortunately, I have plenty of online and real-life friends who know all about writing an amazing book review.
When I ask around, I find some generally agreed upon do’s and don’ts for reviewing fiction.
DO GIVE A SENSE OF THE STORY
Most reviews begin with a story synopsis. This can be even more illuminating than the official book blurb, highlighting plot points that whet the reader’s appetite to read.
“My main goal is to interest you in the book,” says my insightful friend Wendy of the Star Angels Reviews blog and known on Goodreads as Wendy’sThoughts. “The blurb is there to intrigue, but as a reviewer I want to give more insight than what is already available.”
The synopsis is an opportunity to explore the book’s deeper themes, Wendy says. “Many times, especially in the Romance genre, I think readers can become interested in the sexy times and love story. It is romance after all! But we don’t want to miss the deeper meanings of what an author is trying to convey.”
Bless you, Wendy!
An author who has spent a year writing, revising and layering rich subtext, theme and symbolism into her book naturally wants to know readers enjoyed more than the hot sex scenes.
…BUT FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T SPOIL IT!
Some readers love having the major plot points of a story ruined—oops, I mean “revealed”—before they’ve ever read page one. But most don’t. Most are like me: Spoilers don’t just deflate my excitement, they make me want to throw my Kindle across the room.
“I don’t want a review to tell me everything about the book,” Wendy says. “That’s like a movie preview that shows all the good parts to lure you in, and then when you see the movie there’s nothing left to engage with.”
USA Today bestselling erotica and sci-fi romance author Cara Bristol points out that spoilers can happen at any point in the story. “Most reviewers know not to reveal the ending, but often surprise twists occur midway through the story,” she says on her blog. “You can allude to them (‘I was so surprised by what happened next,’ ‘I never saw that coming,’ or ‘What a plot twist!’) but please don’t spoil it for other readers by telling what it is.”
And what about you lovable nut cases who do love spoilers? Goodreads, at least, provides handy spoiler tags to let readers self-select whether they want a plot point revealed. On Amazon and iBooks, you can write “SPOILER WARNING” in all capitals before your reveal.
Jessica of the addictive blog Jessica’s Totally Over the Top Book Obsession is one of those reviewers who gets it right. “I tend to give spoilers, but always warn readers so they can avoid if they prefer,” she says. “I do try to give trigger warnings on things like cheating, rape or torture because I think it’s important for readers to be prepared.”
DO SAY WHAT WORKED FOR YOU—AND WHAT DIDN’T
“It’s easy to forget this step, but your romance novel book review should try to explain what you liked/loved about the book and what you didn’t,” says Mindy, a die-hard romance fan and prolific reviewer on Goodreads. “I’ve bought books based off the things people said they didn’t like because it’s something I do like in a story.”
You mean things like, “the Hero was too dominating, the sex too explicit, and there was too much BDSM”? That’s my favorite kind of negative review. That’s catnip to a reader like me!
Of course, it’s no fun reading a review that doesn’t plainly say what was or wasn’t intriguing about the story.
“If you didn’t like a book, say that, but list the reasons why,” says Eve Recinella of the beautiful and sexy Between the Bookends blog. “Suggest how that book could have been improved for you. If you loved it then by all means let everyone know why. When I write a review I really try to stick to the facts of the book.”
The Huffington Post points out that reading is subjective. “Just because it didn’t appeal to you doesn’t mean it won’t appeal to someone else,” they note.
Don’t just write, “the plot sucked,” because that doesn’t help readers gauge whether the story might work for them. “Explain inyour review why you didn’t like the story,” The Huffington Post says. “That’s what reviews are for.”
DO BE HONEST…
Everyone has their own reasons for writing a book review, but pretty much one (primary) reason for reading them: To learn about your next fabulous read. Frank insights are therefore key to helping other readers decide what will work for them.
“Books are costly, so I always try to be honest and not sugarcoat my view, even when I’m given a book from an author,” says Jessica. “I don’t want someone to go out and spend their money on a book that wasn’t well-written.”
Eve seconds the thought. “I’ve seen it too many time to count where readers hype a book only because it’s an Advance Reader Copy given them by the author,” she says, “or they rate a book low because they don’t agree with the plotline used. Neither of those is helpful to other readers.”
Wendy advises passing on a story premise that doesn’t appeal to you. “If you have a personal dislike for a particular scenario and the scenario was in the blurb, then maybe it wasn’t the book for you to review. You had a heads up from the author, after all.”
…BUT DON’T BE DISRESPECTFUL
For authors, there’s only one rule when it comes to negative book reviews: DON’T RESPOND. Seriously, just don’t.
But for readers, the issue is more complex. Some reviewers I spoke with counseled diplomacy and tact when sharing a negative opinion.
“I can appreciate a negative review if it is done respectfully with all the reasons explained with concrete examples,” Wendy says. “However, it is not necessary to drag an author through the gates of hell because you personally did not like a book. That’s unprofessional, and shows a lack of awareness that reading is subjective.”
Readers, too, lose out when a critical review resorts to personal attacks or mean spiritedness. “In order to be helpful to other readers, novel reviews should be objective, honest, and informative,” says Lana of Dirty Girl Romance, “but they should never be disrespectful or downright rude.”
DO ADD GRAPHICS AND QUOTES
Contemporary romance reviewers have been at the forefront of the trend to incorporate GIFs and still images into romance novel book reviews. On Goodreads and personal blogs, nothing brings a sultry story or sexy characters to life like a few well-chosen images.
“I include graphics in my reviews because I love making them,” Lana says. “My reviews tend to have a specific style and always start with a teaser. Mainly it’s to draw the eye, but since I also create graphics for purchase, it shows readers what I have available.”
Lana maintains a stock image account and periodically searches and saves the images she likes, then waits until she has the perfect book quote to pair with them. She uses Photoshop to compose her graphics, but reviewers without the skills or the software can try a free option like Canva or Pixlr.
Eve of Between the Bookends is a big fan of free image search services like Google Images and GIPHY. “We are such a visual society nowadays, and graphics add another layer of context to a review,” Eve says.
“I also think it helps to break up the ‘wall of text.’ Some of my reviews can get a bit lengthy (lol!) and I think it makes it easier for people to read if you give them some nice eye candy along the way.”
Just be careful to use images with a creative commons license, or that are otherwise marked as available for public use. Not sure how to find free usable images? Check back for Part 2 of this blog post, Your Step By Step Guide to Writing An Amazing Romance Novel Book Review.
And don’t worry if you don’t have the time or money to surf stock photo sites or mock up your own graphics. Gifs and photos are fun but not essential elements of a review, in my opinion.
A timesaving alternative is to select a few steamy, funny or intriguing quotes from the novel and weave them throughout your review. This adds color and vividness to your own words, and breaks up long paragraphs of text without requiring a college degree in graphic design!
There is, however, one non-negotiable element for an amazing romance novel book review…
DO ENLIGHTEN AND/OR ENTERTAIN
Romance novel book reviews are meant to inform and amuse, to provoke thought and discussion, to help other readers choose a book, or simply to remind the reviewer what she thought of a story.
“I’m not here to tell readers what to read,” Lana explains. “My reviews convey my reading experience, and I simply want to share that with fellow romance lovers.”
Wendy of Star Angels Reviews has a slightly different take. “My goal is to have the reader become more interested in the book and want to buy it. A review that does that has done its job.”
Fabulous insights, ladies! Now I’m totally inspired. I’m off to write a review of my current steamy fav, Disclaim by Pam Godwin…
What do you think is the most important part of writing a romance novel book review? Answer in the comments section, then check back for Part 2.